Home PageArchivesVolume no. 6Issue 3Fiction: Rachel Richardson

 

Carry My Bones Up From This Place

by Rachel Richardson

 

We were three: Miranda, Marty, and me, the infant celebrities of Lancaster. We made the front page of the Eagle Gazette: LOCAL TRIPLETS DELIVERED, FIRST SINCE 1968. The clipping hung at the stair’s start, followed, step by step, by Marty’s stint as JV quarterback and Miranda waving under her homecoming crown. Further up, the clippings showed Miranda in her cheer uniform, Marty in his arm cast, and me holding a Pinewood Derby trophy. Others showed me mumbling through my salutatorian speech beside a photo of the three of us in robes and square hats.

The pictures stop at the landing.

§

My legs feel atrophied as travelers break around us like waves. Marty stands, hands on hips, grinning.

“Amsterdam,” he says. “More like Amster-damn! Am I right, brother?”

He is already too loud. I try to smile. I try because he is my twin, but there’s a fever behind my forehead. Everything is a few watts too dim, too bright, as if I never woke up and am still on the flight, dreaming.

“Sure,” I say. Marty looks like a conquistador surveying his vanquished terrain. “Do you have our hostel reservations?”

“Oh, Miles, this is going to be sick.” He unslings his athletic bag, and as he digs, he rambles about how we’re like right near the red-light district, you know, the hookers and shit, and there’s a coffee shop in the hostel, like right in there. “And they don’t serve just coffee, if you know what I mean.”

Marty opens a map. He points and cocks his head as though he’s gauging the spin of the pass, as if Ohio’s autumn sun is high over the goalpost. His face is mine—thicker and stronger—but we share the curve of his lip and the arcs of his eyebrows—the expression and the eyes.

He strides towards the exit, and I follow closely as if the blood we share is magnetized.

Outside, Amsterdam’s thin sunlight is still too much, and I block my eyes.

Marty’s steak of a hand clamps onto my shoulder. “You all right?”

“Sure,” I say. “I’ll be fine.”

She would have wanted this. It’s not my fault. I’ll be fine.

I was always the best one at lying.

§

Miranda died face down in a neighbor’s pool in her underwear. Her blood tested positive for methamphetamine, but no one needed an autopsy to know that. Looking at her blue-white skin in the satin insides of the coffin—her hair brown and long—I wanted to put my thumb on her mouth and see whether her teeth were whitened or gray. I would slip a coin beneath her tongue, fare for whatever ride she was on now.

I had visions all through the funeral. During the eulogy, Miranda’s hand twitched. Marty looked ahead and then at me, snarling and black-eyed, and then back at the podium. His neck never turned. The flowers withered and switched colors. I blinked hard, and the buzz began: a little too dim and then growing darker.

It would be too easy to say Miranda’s dying birthed the humming in my head, but that isn’t true. Miranda dying only made it louder.

I’d last seen Miranda on our mother’s birthday. Rain had thrummed outside as we divvied up the cake. Marty was stressed about his upcoming midterms, I was breezing through my seminar on Post-Impressionism, and Miranda was debating beautician school. When Dad and Marty got into it over the sorry state of the Buckeyes and their new sad-sack coach, I snuck out for a cigarette. Miranda followed.

The rain, loud, fell in curtains. Passing cars kicked waves. When I offered Miranda a cigarette, she took it but refused the lighter, slipping her hand beneath her nose—first one nostril, then the other. She pocketed the vial, sniffed hard, and lit her cigarette. She smiled.

When we carried her out of the building towards the hearse, my knees buckled. An usher steadied me, but I rode in my own car to the site. On the way, I stopped to vomit.

Marty had already booked a post-grad vacation to Amsterdam with his linebacker buddy who cancelled when his grandmother fell ill. It was our parents’ idea to take me instead, to go and enjoy ourselves, their sweet grieving hearts oblivious to the nature of the trip. So we went—packed, boarded, and flew.

Miranda died two weeks ago.

§

The girl who checks us in at City Shelter Hostel Amsterdam is beautiful, her face as clear and calm as a Vermeer. Marty hands over the passports, and she recites the litany: curfew is midnight, the attached café—not a coffee shop, she says, pronouncing it “cowfy shup”—is open at six, and the Bible study is every night in Dutch and English. We sign our patron contracts: no drinking, no drugs on the premises. Her nametag says Elke.

“Wilkum to Ahmsterdem,” she says.

Upstairs on the men’s floor, Marty unlocks our room: two bunk beds, half of them cluttered with others’ belongings. Our view is a narrow street split by a canal lined with boats. Bicycles lean everywhere and more pedal past, bells tinging. Thin bridges span the water. A father dangles his daughter as she squeals and kicks.

Marty palms his cropped hair.

“I had no idea this was a churchy sort of place.” Marty shrugs, pats the bed, and then holds out his wrist. His watch reads 4:20. “Talk about a sign from God.”

§

I stopped cutting my hair in ninth-grade, and by tenth-grade, Miranda was braiding it. She’d furl a tablecloth around my shoulders, trim with her specialty shears. The bobby pins skimmed against my scalp and the scissors’ dull edge grazed my neck. I shivered.

“The good, the bad, and the ugly,” she said. I sat in the backyard, Miranda bobbing and darting behind me. Mom said the hair made too much of a mess inside. “That’s what the paper should have said.”

The article ran the week before: TRIPLETS SWEEP SCIENCE FAIR.

“Which one am I?” I asked. She tugged a comb from her pocket.

“The ugly, definitely.”

A sparrow puttered nearby, picking my stray hairs for nests. “Beauty and the beasts.”

“No, you’re the brains. Marty’s the brawn.” She flipped her own hair. “I’m the beauty.”

“But beauty fades,” I said. I had a hideous vision of Marty, old and muscled, his biceps taut but his elbows sagging, his hair gray. I was somewhere behind him, stooped and spectacled.

“Not me,” Miranda said. “Mine will last forever.”

That night, Marty saw my new cut, called me a fag, and went upstairs before dinner.

§

We end up lost in Amsterdam and stop at some coffee shop called HEAD. Corners turn into other corners. Streets stack onto streets, bridges on bridges. Houses crowd together, their roofs peaked and dainty, their shutters and window boxes bursting flowers, everyone so rosy cheeked, the canals and their drifting boats, and everywhere bicycles. My bones feel thin, but it’s all so goddamn pleasant. So much bright, blue sky.

Inside the coffee shop, Marty grins, a joint pinched in his hand. Behind us, guys in Ivy League T-shirts discuss “Nether-lands.” Like “nether regions,” the whole country is just inherently sexy.

“I don’t find it sexy at all,” I say. The guys don’t hear me, but Marty does. He squints through the haze of marijuana smoke.

“What?”

“Nothing,” I say. Marty holds his breath and passes the behemoth to me. It’s sharp in my throat, a dense haze in my lungs, already confused by what they’re supposed to do. I smoke quick, treating the gem like a common Marlboro. “We should see Anne Frank’s house. Tell Mom and Dad we did something cultural. They’d be happy.” I pass the joint back to Marty.

“Anne Franks?” says Marty, pulling deep. “She’s from here?”

“Frank,” I say. When Marty passes me the joint, I let it smolder in my fingers. “You know the book? ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’?”

“No shit!” says Marty. “All that shit Miranda liked, the rainbows and bears and—”

I cough. “That’s Lisa Frank.”

“Oh,” says Marty. He takes a thoughtful tug, and then lets the joint sit in the ashtray. Behind us, the Ivy kids are arguing Derrida. “I wish Miranda could’ve been here.”

“No,” I say. Or maybe I don’t say it because Marty keeps talking, but his mouth won’t make words. Then it does.

“I know you two were”—when he shrugs, his shoulders seem to reach comically high— “buddies.”

“Buddies,” I say. “She’s dead.”

“Miles, chill.” Marty reaches across the table for my hand. “Miles. Brother. Miles.”

But there’s the me that sits at the table and does chill with the one sibling I’ve got left, the one I never liked, and there’s the me that’s real, standing, walking, outside in the twilight, the lights humming and white, yellow, and then red.

§

When we were kids, Marty wet the bed, I never slept, and Miranda had nightmares. I’d lie awake, listening to Marty fantasize in the bunk below me. Mom tiptoed past, shutting off the bathroom light. The moon snuck across the sky.

In her bed, Miranda told me her nightmares: skeletons hanging from trees inside an inescapable maze. She’d recount in the dark, and I’d run fingers through her hair. “You died. But you were a great artist.”

“Better than Bob Ross?” We had watched him religiously after school over bowls of mac and cheese.

“Better,” she said. She rolled over and faced me, her eyes huge in the dark. Our knees touched. “Tell me all the colors.”

So I recited them all, memorized from the white lettering of Bob Ross’ show: Dark Sienna, CADMIUM YELLOW, VAN DYKE BROWN.

“Paint me a picture.”

“Shoot,” I said, “let’s give this tree a happy little friend. Just, there you go. Let’s add some moss to these rocks. Swish. Swoosh. There you go.”

She put her hands on my face, her thumb on my lips, and fell asleep.

We were fifteen.

§

They sit on stools or stand, wearing G-strings and nothing else—every flavor of skin arrayed behind glass: vanilla, cinnamon, and mocha. I stand in front of a ginger hooker, a girl with long, freckled legs. She is ordinary, a pigeon in a zoo.

In front of the doors stands a bouncer in a leather jacket, haggling and harassing. “You look ready for sex,” he says to me.

“No,” I say. The light is finally fading, and relief fans down my ribs—another day over, another day sooner to the end of this. Twilight has never been more beautiful. The ginger hooker doesn’t acknowledge me as she slowly sways and turns in her window, displaying herself like a rotating sign. I realize the naked commerce of it all: She is for sale. I could buy her time. Her time has a price.

I want to ask how much.

“Hey—you in or you go,” says the bouncer, his Dutch accent, pure syrup. Marty wants to get pancakes, I remember, claiming Amsterdam is famous for them. I don’t believe him.

Marty is not here. Maybe Marty is looking for me. Maybe he isn’t.

“How much?” I ask.

But when I look back, the ginger is gone and then there she is: her hair long and brown, her stomach pale, and tan lines around her breasts. Her are eyes split—the left blue, the right spattered brown. The doctors said it is common in triplets.

I know it’s not Miranda, but it might as well be, and the rush of everything—the pot, the jet lag, the gnaw of my hunger—floods me, a slow submerge into panic. Miranda follows as I walk from window to window. She is ankle deep in water, and there are bruises on her arms. The water bridges her knees, and her eyes hollow. The scenes follow me and progress: waist-high and then shoulder-deep. Miranda is not struggling though her eyes are huge and screaming.

Elke finds me in front of the hostel.

“Mister Hunter,” she says. “Mister Hunter. It’s after curfew.” She pronounces it like a sneeze. “Krfyoo!” I want to take her in my arms and bless her.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m so sorry.”

Elke, all sunlit hair though the street is dark by now, looks from corner to corner. She peers over her sweater, a mossy green thing that makes her all the more deer-like—velvet antlers and doe eyes.

“Please.” I offer my hands, and she hoists me up. Standing, I brush off my palms and pat my cheeks—I’m half-numb from lying outside the hostel door. “I don’t have a key.”

Elke sighs. “I will help,” she says. “But only this once.” She steers me by the arm and directs me towards the stairs. They seem infinite, an insurmountable ladder, and I can’t face our cell of a room just yet. I veer into the café where a group of foreigners are gathered around a weedy man holding a Bible.

The man glances up, waving me toward a seat. His smile is halogen, but his beard patchy.

He reads on in Dutch, choppy as waves on a lake. He lilts into English: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie in green pastures.”

In my dreams, Miranda naps in neon fields and walks beside the high reeds of a creek. The grasses are wet against her legs. They trail damp smears of paint.

§

“Two-toke joke,” says Marty. He is doing chin-ups in the doorway when I wake up. “We’ve been away from college for a month, and you’re rusty? You better make it up to me tonight, brother. We’re going to rage.”

He drops down and claps. I push myself up, seeing my shoes lined neatly by my bed.

“You were conked out at Bible study. Had to practically carry you upstairs.”

“And Elke?”

“Who?” Recognition lights up Marty’s face. Do I look so young when I’m happy? “Oh, the chick from the desk! Well, if you get her to come out with us tonight, I’ll buy all the drinks.”

I try to shove away the vision of Elke dancing, spinning, and slowly swaying towards me alone in a brocaded room.

“You got all day.” Marty squats on the bunk bed across from mine. It terrifies and astounds me, waking up in a bed I don’t remember sleeping in. “I met up with these Americans studying abroad and they’re taking me to a pancakery today—I told you, man, this place is known—and then we’re going to get blasted.” He leans in and wiggles his eyebrows. “Plus, I figured you’d want to check out some museums and artsy stuff. Like you were saying. Culture. We’ll meet up later.”

“Okay,” I say. My mind feels ripped into a hundred shreds of paper—Elke, the girls in the windows, Elke in a window, Bob Ross and “The Joy of Painting,” Bob Ross painting Elke. Marty pulls off his shirt to reveal his Buckeye tattoo.

He drops his athletic shorts and steps out of them, strutting, bare as a baby. I feel a lump in my throat, unsettled. We bear the same scar. He wraps a towel around his waist.

“Meet me at HEAD at the magic hour,” he says. He winks. “Ask her out.”

§

Nineteen.

Miranda and I were home for the summer, the air hazy with gnats. Our hair was overgrown and shaggy, hers tied up in a knot on the top of her head. Her legs were long and bare, and the grasses yellow and high beneath her hands. We were going to the covered bridge, our secret smoke hole. It was the last time we would do this.

The bridge was abandoned, rotting and skeletal, less covered than last time. We tiptoed across the rotted planks, balancing. Safe, we took our customary spots directly across from one another, feet to feet. An egg-shaped hole above Miranda’s head let in light across a cobweb. Frogs tittered in the reeds of the creek below.

We’d just finished freshman year at Ohio State. Marty made starting halfback and I’d been urged to pursue art as a major, though we didn’t declare until the next spring. Miranda had been rushed by every other sorority on campus, so she finally picked one and earned her letters in the summer. In all, Miranda and I hadn’t seen each other much.

We still didn’t know who first gave her the meth—a sorority sister, the townie boyfriend she courted the next fall, or some drug dealing neighbor on frat row. She didn’t have it then, but she’d have it the next time I saw her, incoherent at a party at her sorority house the first week of school. She had offered me some. I told no one.

Now, though, we were in the covered bridge and Miranda was rummaging in her bag for the joint she rolled on her childhood vanity. Marty had to stay clean for athletics, but Miranda and I were beholden to no one but each other.

Once the thing was lit and twirling wisps of milky smoke, Miranda talked.

“You know how it happened, don’t you?” she asked, coughing into her sleeve. I leaned over and took the joint. We didn’t discuss it, but I knew Miranda felt the same way I did when we got stoned: eased, quieted, and stilled for once. In high school, Marty would come home late from mad adventures—scaling the city water tower, leaping fences to terrorize neighborhood dogs—but Miranda and I were content to sit and be mellow.

“The three of us. Biologically. It’s wild.” Miranda shifted, holding smoke in her lungs. “It was me and one of you. We were twins—polyzygotic. Two separate eggs.”

The creek rushed below. Miranda’s eyes were half-lidded.

“Then Marty—I like to think it was Marty and me in there first—split in two.” She held up her two fists, tapped one against the other, and made a star with her hand. “And Marty turned into you and Marty.”

“But I have a theory,” Miranda said, squinting, “that I already knew Marty wouldn’t be enough. That I’d need you.” She reached out and parted an invisible curtain.

The joint smoldered in my hand. “You pulled us apart.”

Miranda grinned. “I did.”

I love you, she would tell me later. She would be wasted at a party, spacey with pills, smoke, and powders. “No matter what,” she would say, “you are my brother.” Then, she’d offer me a bump of meth that I declined.

The fetal image lingered with me, nauseating. I pictured translucent fingers prying, bright throbbing goop, a flickering heart pausing, rekindling, and duplicating itself. I felt as if I was half of who I was supposed to be.

Or maybe Marty and I were blessed being twins. Miranda was her own person, and in the end, it undid her.

My mind was only tickling these ideas at the moment. Right now, I was looking at my sister, more my twin than Marty ever would be, and I kicked at the tread of her shoes, calling her a bullshitter, until she laughed and threw the lighter at my chest.

“You’re out,” she said, pointing to the joint. When the embers were too near to pinch, we flicked the dead butt into the creek below, walked home, and giggled all through dinner.

§

I am surrounded all afternoon by tiny Asian tourists. We shuffle from one artifact to the next. The Van Gogh Museum is not so much about his paintings as it is every bit of flotsam from his life. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his ear floating in a jar of formaldehyde.

The day drags. I have too much time to kill before Marty’s appointed meeting time and no desire to repeat yesterday’s misadventure. I walk in and out of gimmicky boutiques—big wooden shoes, decorative plates, cuckoo clocks—and end up ordering a burger in what amounts to a sports bar. The fries are served with mayonnaise.

I watch men in orange dithering with a soccer ball on TV. Marty always says soccer is a sport for queers. There’s only one football and it’s American. Outside, a sudden rainstorm breaks over the sky and the sun plaits through in beams.

For the nostalgia, I buy a pack of Lucky Strikes. I walk and smoke past the fair-haired Dutch and their rosy-cheeked children, the quiet canals and their boats, the bridges, and the bicycles. Over the steeples of the strange roofs, a rainbow breaks. I smoke harder, pulling tobacco deep into my lungs and feeling the singe in my throat because it is all so goddamned beautiful. I hate it. I hate myself. I hate Miranda, I hate death, and I hate Amsterdam. I hate this hideous bank of time that is our lives, and I hate this empty day and how I have to keep moving and breathing and persisting when all I want is to lie down and stay there forever.

A man in a tattered grim reaper outfit waves on the sidewalk. I look up—The Torture Museum of Amsterdam. The reaper hands me a placard: “Real medieval torture devices! Amsterdam’s #1 Torture Attraction! Special rates for groups!”

I go in.

I spend the next three hours in dim chambers lined with racks, guillotines, and hanging cages. The walls are stone, lit with garish reds and greens, casting huge, barbaric shadows. Medieval woodcuts display twisted faces of agony and wenches wearing crude, iron masks with inscriptions: “The maid that cannot be silent will this muzzle be lent.” In other rooms, there sits a chair of spikes, an iron maiden with deadened eyes for heretics, whores, and blasphemers. Misunderstood lunatics are decried as witches.

I am alone in the museum.

Outside, when I blink, my mind is littered with images of hell and terror. I’m late to meet Marty.

§

Marty reclines on a plush, buttoned sofa with gilt edges, a trio of girls under his arms: Jenny, Annie, and Erin. These girls seem as American as apple pie. Marty pulls on the blunt, fat as a hot dog, and blows a plume of white.

“The man of the hour. Thought we’d never see you, brother!”

He introduces me, and the girls titter and nod. I’m seated thigh to thigh with Jenny. If I squint just so and breathe deep, she could be Elke’s Midwestern cousin.

We pass and chatter, Marty ordering us all Heinekens, the bottles as glassy as our eyes. The more I take, the less I want to move, but I can sense the fire in Marty, brighter with every toke, and when the thing’s only half-done, he decrees that we must head into the night with ourselves.

“Come, brother,” he says, as mythic as an angel, and I slide my easy arm around Jenny’s slim waist and we stride into the night.

So it is going well. I catch some of the joy radiating from Marty and ride its wake. The sunset goes gold over the city. We walk until it’s dark, Marty bidding everyone good evening, affecting this British accent I didn’t even know he had. It sends the girls into hysterics. Jenny bumps along with me, hip nudging hip.

We enter the first club as a band of renegades on a mission to get laid, to get fucked up, and to get outside of ourselves. Marty returns from the bar with a tray of neon shots. Down the hatch. A waitress brings us an array of cocktails I don’t remember ordering—tulip glasses with straws jammed with fruit for the girls and a whiskey on the rocks for me. The music is loud and chaotic and I feel like I’m wearing a huge, invisible helmet that an astronaut untethered. Jenny has her hand on my knee, her fingernail exploring the inseam of my jeans.

Annie, or maybe Erin, digs in her clutch and holds out a palm full of pills. I look at Marty. Marty licks one from her damp hand.

I don’t know who I’m praying to—the ghost of van Gogh, my dead sister, the spirit of Elke—but it’s someone. I swallow.

We dance. We drink. We bounce from bar to booth to another club, all pink waterfalls and dripping beaded curtains, and the girls twist in hideous masks. Jenny’s tongue enters inside my ear. My reflection in the bathroom mirror vibrates. Marty holds a whip over them all, snapping and grinning—no, he is a boy again, slow dancing at prom. My hands shrink and then grow, and suddenly a bolt of genius hits me: get outside.

Erin, the brunette, leans against the railing of a canal. I buoy over to her, finding my day’s cigarettes in my pocket. Our hands cup as she lights the cigarette. Her eyebrow bears a scar from a ripped piercing.

“Miles,” she says. “Right?”

She rolls up her sleeves. The night is muggy. Her arm is scripted with a bouquet of tattoos, symbols and spider work, and roses. Prominent in the crook of the ocean of her elbow are a semicolon (;), an exclamation mark (!), and an ampersand (&).

“What is that?” I ask. “Your tattoo.”

“Oh,” she says. She flicks her head, her hair fanning out in slow motion. I focus hard on her lips and decipher something about possibilities of the endless clause, the thrill of the everyday, and the connectedness of everyone.

“What’s it called again?” I touch the furthest figure. It burns under my finger.

“The ampersand. They’re international. Punctuation tells no lies.” Then she giggles, switching her cigarette from one hand to the other. “I’m having a great time. Are you?”

“The ampersand.” I repeat. “The ampersand.” I’m too messed up to articulate anything, so I seize her arm and pull her in, and she kisses me, slipping her tongue between my lips. Our cigarettes dangle at our sides, embers dripping.

“What?” she says. Her tone is soft as fawn fur. Then she stops. “What did you just say?”

I don’t remember saying anything.

“Did you just call me Miranda?” She steps back, cocking her head.

“I don’t have a sister.”

“Yes, you do. Marty told us all about it yesterday. He said it was fucked up but—”

I grab her wrist again. “I don’t have a sister.”

“Let go of me.”

“I want to see your tattoos. I want to see you.”

“Let go.”

“I had a sister, but I never touched her.”

“The fuck is wrong with you?” She spins from my grasp, pitches the cigarette over the railing, and stomps away, flipping me off. I look into the water where the butt floats in its own ripples, drowning.

§

I will ask Elke to come lay with me on the bank of a river, and we will adorn each other in garlands of grass. We will lie in the reeds, and she will tell me all her terrible secrets, and I will bless and forgive her, and she will weep bright tears onto my upturned face. And I will confess. I will confess.

“Marty.” I am riding in the back of a cab towards the hostel. I don’t remember getting there. “It should have been Marty.”

“No,” Elke will say. On the back of my eyelids she is naked. “No, it should have been you.”

The cab deposits me at the door, and mercifully, Elke is not there, and I plod my addled body up the stairs and to our room. Marty sits lotus style between the bunk beds, stripped to his boxers. His eyes are all pupil.

“Brother. Sit with me.”

As failing as I feel, I can tell I am coming down where Marty is just heading out. He looks past me into some beauty only he can see. Annoyance levels my head.

“No,” I say. “I’m going to bed.”

“Do this one thing for me. Just listen—”

“Marty, we’re both fucked—”

“Just shut up and listen to me.” He stands, his balance beautiful, his eyes flaring as he takes my shoulders, and says, “I saw God earlier. I saw him, and he said it’s all right.”

“Marty, you’re full of shit—”

“No! No, Miles, I’m not—Miranda was there, too, Miles. She was so….” He gazes up at the ceiling. “She was beautiful.”

“I don’t want to hear any of this. You’re out of your mind.”

I’m moving towards the door, ready to sleep on the street to escape Marty’s bullshit epiphanies, when he does some football maneuver that blocks the door entirely.

“You’re not going anywhere.” His eyes are clear, spackled like mine. “You never want to be anywhere I am.”

“No,” I say. “I don’t.”

Marty snaps. His balled fist hits my upper lip, a hard side swipe. I topple, bleeding everywhere. My nose is broken. Marty stands over me, his fist still curled. He shouts, “I bring you here, take you out, give you everything, let you do your faggy art thing, carry your sorry ass back to bed when you pass out, and you mope. You sulk and pout like a goddamn pussy.”

I hang my head and let him berate me, tired as I am. I want to lie down. I want to braid Elke’s hair.

“You’re an asshole.”

I spit blood.

“She was my sister, too, and I don’t care what happened with you guys. I have as much right to be as sad as you do. But I don’t. I get on. I move on. She’s gone, Miles, but I’m not.”

I let this sink into me.

He cannot meet my face, but he asks me anyway. “How could you?” He punches the bunk bed, slumps onto the mattress. “How could you do that?”

I don’t know. I never did. I stand, staggering, and wipe my hand across my bleeding nose. Marty gets a good look at my face—his face, the same, broken and ruined—and asks me where I’m going, and I say nowhere.

I’m already gone, and yes, Elke, yes you are right. It should have been me. It should have been me all along.

§

The girls are showier in the dark. They bend, shimmy, and squat. They have no eyes beneath the shadow. Their lips make perfect holes.

She stands in the corner of her display and searches her hair for split ends. I stand and watch her—her pimp busy negotiating one window over. She is naked, save for a thin line of electric blue running across her ample hip and a triangle of fabric snug between her legs. She doesn’t look up when I walk to her window. I don’t tap on it. I kiss it, pressing my lips to a canvas of glass. The brush of my tongue outlines her body, smearing my blood like paint.
 

Richardson Author's Photo
Rachel Richardson was born in Tulsa, Okla., and now lives in Spartanburg, S.C., with a small dog, a large dog, and a midsized man. She tweets @pintojamesbean.

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